Saturday, June 30, 2012

On the look out for Boers

Arthur Hamilton Baynes, a Church of England priest who served as Bishop of Natal in South Africa during the second Anglo-Boer War, died 70 years ago today. He is barely remembered, though he did leave behind two books, one of which was a diary documenting his war days in Natal.

There is very little readily-available biographical information about Baynes. He was born in Lewisham, Kent, in 1854, and was ordained in 1882. He served as vicar of St James Church, Nottingham, between 1884 and 1888, and than was appointed domestic chaplain to the Archbishop of Canterbury (Edward Benson) for four years, before becoming of vicar of Christ Church, Greenwich, for two years.

Most significantly, from 1893 to 1901, i.e. partly during the second Anglo-Boer War, Baynes was Bishop of Natal, a diocese which covered the western part of the South African province of KwaZulu-Natal, west and south of the Tugela and Buffalo rivers. During his time there, he helped reconcile opposing Anglican groups, and left behind a diocese of eighteen parishes, six Zulu missions, two Indian missions, three schools and one mission hospital.

On his return to England in 1910, Baynes went back to Nottingham and was vicar of St Mary’s Church until 1913. He was canon of Southwell Minster, and then of Birmingham Cathedral where subsequently he was made provost (1931-1937). He died on 30 June 1942. There is very little additional information online about Baynes, though two of his books have survived: South Africa, published in 1908 by A. R. Mowbray & Co. which Baynes himself called ‘a slight sketch of South African Church expansion’; and his South African diary.

This latter was published in 1900 by George Bell and Sons as My diocese during the war, extracts from the diary of the Right Rev. Arthur Hamilton Baynes, D.D. Bishop of Natal. This is freely available at Internet Archive and at Project Canterbury (documenting Anglican history online). The book was prepared for publication by Baynes’ sister, Helen, who notes at the beginning: ‘The Diary does not pretend to any literary merit; it is simply a hastily written record, for home reading, of days of intense interest and of stirring events.’

In his own preface to the diary, Baynes says this: ‘This diary is written in odd moments, in the early morning or late at night after a tiring day; and I take no special pains as to its form, but write down a bare record of facts. Comments, reflections, emotions of a higher or deeper kind, if committed to writing at all, are reserved for the more personal medium of letters. Rough in form, however, as my diary is, and bare and unedifying in matter, the Publishers have thought that it may contain enough of general interest during these last interesting months to be worth printing, and in response to their request my sister has undertaken the selection of extracts.

The roughest sketch which gives the local colouring sometimes conveys a truer impression than the most accurate photograph, and possibly this diary, written on the spot, may have this small merit. My own experience has been that there are some things one only gets a proper view of on the spot. For instance, before I came to South Africa I had a settled impression that Cape Town was at the extreme southern point of the Continent, and that Table Mountain looked out over it straight towards the South Pole. It was only when I got there that I found Table Mountain facing almost due north, staring at me as I approached from England. It is just possible that my diary may serve to correct a few such a priori and erroneous impressions.

But there is one respect in which even we who lived on the spot were quite at fault. Some of us, indeed, were at fault on two points. We never believed, till just before the event, that there would be war, and we never dreamed that if there were it would be anything very big.’

And here are three extracts from the diary during the first few months of the war.

15 October 1899
‘As no one had asked me to preach to-day, I thought I might have a day off, especially as I know there are plenty of clergy about from the Transvaal and Newcastle. However, when I went to the early service at the Garrison Church, Twemlow asked me if I would preach to the men at 11, as he was asked to preach to the Imperial Light Horse at a special parade at St Saviour’s at 9.30. I felt rather guilty in doing nothing, so I said “Yes,” though it was rather short notice. The Rifles were there - the 2nd Battalion, which has just come out. I preached to them from the words in the second lesson, “With singleness of heart, fearing the Lord.” Things are very quiet to-day. I suppose the Boers would not choose Sunday for operations unless they were obliged. After luncheon I went in for a little chat with the Governor.

We live in a state of feverish excitement, waiting for each scrap of news and surrounded by startling rumours which turn out as a rule to be pure inventions. We rush for the morning paper and hail everyone we meet for news. There are rumours to-day of various kinds, but all untrue as it turns out. We cannot tell, and probably shall not know for some days, what is happening on the western border, about Mafeking and Kimberley. There are rumours of fighting, and we know that they are more or less isolated.’

14 January 1900
‘Holy Communion at 5.45, in our little mess-tent. Only a few officers. Then after a cup of tea, church parade at 7. As we are two chaplains, we agreed to take two battalions each, so that all could hear. I had the 60th Rifles and the Scottish Rifles, and the Navals, and a few odds and ends; and Hill had the Rifle Brigade and the Durham Light Infantry. General Buller and some of his staff and General Lyttelton came to my service, and it was a charming spot with a little crescent of rocky hill, so that the men were in tiers above me, and during the sermon they could sit on the rocks. I preached from the second lesson, “Follow me, and let the dead bury their dead,” and showed them that a chaplain was not simply to console the dying and to bury the dead. After service I took my books and went up the hill. The two big naval guns have been brought up here from Chieveley (the Boers don’t know it yet, but they soon will). It is odd that the most useful guns were only improvised on the spur of the moment. Captain Scott, of the “Terrible,” designed and made the huge carriages to move these ship-guns on, and now they can take them with spans of oxen quite long journeys and up steep hills. They are enormous things, with great long muzzles.

I asked the naval sentry to let me look through their big telescope. I could see the Boers at 8,000 yards, quite plainly - could see which had blue shirt sleeves and which had white - as they worked in the trenches. But only a few were working to-day; a fair number were sitting on the top of Spion Kop, looking at us. But the two guns are just enough below the ridge to be out of sight. Then I went over the ridge and down into the bush, on the other side, where there was more shade. I got a very comfortable seat under a tree. If the Boers had taken a shot at our naval guns I should have been too near to be pleasant; but this was not likely, especially on a Sunday. While I sat and read a partridge came out of the long grass to within three yards of my foot. Back to write and read, and then lunch and some English papers. But nothing for me. I have not had a letter or a paper since I left Maritzburg, last Friday week. It is awful to think what I may be neglecting. At 6 we had a voluntary service as last week. Hill read, and I preached from the first lesson, “I dwell with him that is of a humble and contrite heart” (“Lest we forget”).’

15 January 1900
‘English letters for next Saturday’s mail had to be despatched this morning! You would think we were in the remote parts of the Transvaal, instead of being little more than twenty-five miles from the railway at Frere. But I suppose with the roads blocked by transport, and the stoppages at the different camps en route, they have to take time by the forelock.

Colonel Byng of the South African Light Infantry went out with two guns of the artillery, with a view to catching Boers on the road between Colenso and this; we heard later on that though he did not succeed in intercepting wagons, etc., he arrived in the nick of time to extricate a patrol of Thorneycroft’s Mounted Infantry from a perilous position. . . .

Meanwhile General Lyttelton and his staff made an expedition to the two hills called Zwartzkop, and I went with them. We started about 11, with two guides. We had to ride round the top of the ridge before descending into the intervening valley, then crossed the plain and began the ascent of the opposite hill. It is lovely country. The hills are covered with thick brush, of semi-tropical character, to be found on our own river valleys as distinguished from the higher hillsides.

About halfway up we left our horses with the orderlies, and climbed the rest, which was steep, on foot. Then we took elaborate surveys of the position as it appeared from there. First to the east, towards the part of the river where Byng was on the look out for the Boers. Of course we could not see him, as he would keep under cover, and might be a good way off. At that part the hills come nearer to the river, and are steep, so that the road is forced nearer to the bank. There is a drift there, with a road leading to it; it is just possible that we might make an attempt there. Then we looked out to the north, and searched the hills for Boer intrenchments with glasses. There is less need of them there, however, for on the right the hills are steep and rocky. Then we looked towards the hills to the north-west, where the road from Potgieter’s Drift crosses the hills, to see if the guns on the hills commanded the back of some small kopjes just across the river; seeing them in profile here, we could judge better than from our camp. A spice of excitement was added here, as we saw just below us, at the foot of the hill, on our side of the river, a lot of cattle herded together, with some ponies, and our guides said that these must be Boers; and if they were, they might have a try to cut off our return to camp. However, we saw nothing of them when we descended the hill. We called at the Kaffir kraal at the foot and bought some chickens, and then returned by another road. Colonel Byng was to have come to dinner, but had not returned from his expedition.’

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Ardent love of liberty

Sir Roger Twysden died all of 340 years ago today. Having inherited his father’s baronetcy and estate, he became something of a rebel against the authorities just at a time when king and parliament were starting their civil war. Imprisoned several times, he took to writing books on English history and constitutional law. None of his diary, though, saw publication until the mid-1850s, when Kent Archaeological Society published extracts. The Society claimed that any reader of Twysden’s journal could not fail to admire the man ‘for the depth of his learning, the soundness of his acquirements, his unfeigned and active piety, his domestic virtues, his loyalty, his ardent love of liberty, his truly English spirit.’

Twysden was born at Roydon Hall in Kent in 1557, the son of Sir William Twysden, a scholar and courtier during the reigns of Queen Elizabeth I and King James I - the latter made him a baronet. Roger Twysden was educated at St Paul’s School and Emmanuel College, Cambridge, before entering Gray’s Inn in 1623. Two years later he was elected Member of Parliament, and then in 1629, as eldest son, he succeeded to the baronetcy on the death of his father, and subsequently spent several years managing the family estate and becoming a county justice of the peace. Increasingly he became disturbed by royal excesses, especially ship money, a defence tax levied without parliamentary support. But he was also disturbed by the ambitions of Parliament.

At the outbreak of civil war in 1642, Twysden joined a petition of grievances against the King, Parliament and the ecclesiastical authorities. This led to his being imprisoned; the following year he tried to escape to France, and he was again jailed. His estates were also sequestred. During his incarceration he wrote The Laws of Henry I and began a study of parliamentary history which later led to his foremost work - Certaine Considerations upon the Government of England. Although released after 1647, he continued to campaign on justice issues.

After the execution of the king in 1649, Twysden eventually reached a settlement over his estate at Roydon Hall, and retired there quietly. In the following years he wrote two historically important works, both published in his lifetime: Historiae Anglicanae Scriptores Decem, and An Historical Vindication of the Church of England. With the restoration of the monarchy in 1660, he resumed his position as a magistrate and was made Deputy Lieutenant of Kent. He died on 27 June 1672. Further biographical information is available from Wikipedia, or the late 19th century version of Dictionary of National Biography

Kent Archaeological Society first published what it called Sir Roger Twysden’s Journal in its publication, Archaeologia Cantiana, in 1858. It included a fascimile of the first page with Twysden’s own title - An Historicall Narrative of the two howses of Parliament. The Archaeologia Cantiana volume is freely available at Internet Archive. However, it is worth noting that Encyclopaedia Britannica refers to Twysden’s text as autobiography rather than a diary, and no bibliography of English diaries includes Roger Twysden. They do, however, include his wife, Isabella, whose diary was also published by Kent Archaeological Society, though not until 1940, as The Diary of Isabella, Wife of Sir Roger Twysden, Baronet, of Royden Hall, East Peckham, 1645-1651. This latter work is not available online.

The Society’s introduction to Twysden’s journal gives the following details: ‘The Diary [. . .] was completed and carefully prepared for the press by Sir Roger himself, and was evidently intended for publication during the Protectorate. It is written throughout in his singularly clear and neat hand, with the disfigurement of hardly a single correction; except in a very few instances chiefly made requisite by the Restoration. Why it was never published, it may not be difficult to conjecture, when we remember how entirely engrossed Sir Roger Twysden was, during the latter years of his life, in those learned researches to which we are largely indebted for the little we know of the early history of England. While occupied in these all absorbing labours, he probably laid aside his private memorials, entrusting the publication of them to those of his family who should come after him, a charge which they seem to have neglected, leaving thereby to us the gratification of first presenting them to the world. The manuscript is too long to be printed entire in a single volume of our serials; we therefore purpose giving it in successive portions. When we shall have subjoined his private correspondence, and a few extracts from his note-books, we shall be much mistaken if our readers do not love and admire the man as warmly as we ourselves do, for the depth of his learning, the soundness of his acquirements, his unfeigned and active piety, his domestic virtues, his loyalty, his ardent love of liberty, his truly English spirit.’

30 March 1642
‘The sayd 30th of March, Sr Edward Dering came unto me early in ye morning, wth whom I went the same day to London, leaving my deere wife great wth child in ye Country.’

31 March 1642
‘The 31, beeing thursday, I yielded myselfe prisoner to ye Sergeant.’

1 April 1642
‘The 1 Aprill, I, with the rest (onely Sr Edward Dering, who then absented hymself, though after hee appeered, was examined, and again went away), was called in to the howse of Commons, examyned on some few questions, and all of us committed to ye Sergeant of ye Mase attending them, who sent us prisoners to an howse in Covent Garden, tyll wee could bee farther questioned by a Committee of Lords and Commons, appoynted for that service, who soone after did it, examyning us upon about 30 Interrogatories, upon wch nothing appeering against us, and our answers agreeing, so far as their could not, nor did ought appeere against us, but an intent onely of petitioning, and yt too upon the Countrie’s desires, the Howse of Commons, not satisfyed, would have us answer to some 9 Interrogatories upon Oath.

But how to doe this for men that had not cast of all shew of legall proceedings was not so easy; for themselves had declared against all oaths ex officio, and every man’s mouth was full of ye Maxime, “No man was obliged to accuse himselfe;” how could wee, then, bee brought by oath to accuse each other, beeing alike criminall. Besides, who should doe it? For if it bee graunted (wch I beeleeve will bee a matter of much difficulty to prove), The Lords’ howse, or my Lord Keeper in it, may in some cases administer an Oath to a Commoner, may a Committee of the Lords and Commons doe it? I conceive they had no president for doing so. Yet that was our case. Mr Spencer, Sr George Strood, and myselfe must upon oath have accused each other, though told wee were not to answer anything concerned ourselves. But our integryty was such, nothing of consequence could be discovered more then beefore. After this, they two (and Sr Edward Dering absent) were empeached. Of my charge a stoppe was made, wch after was layd aside as forgotten; and those two having by good advise put in their answer, there was no farther prosecution of them, onely wee were commanded to call in all ye copies of this petition had beene by us distributed, wch was done accordingly.

Some may, perhaps, admire why the two howses were so transcendently incenced at this petition? why they laboured so earnestly the finding out a plot wch was never imagined? why they tooke so unheard of wayes in their proceedings? for when ever did the howse of Commons appoynt theyr members to joyn wth ye Lords in examining Commoners upon oath, much lesse such as were criminis participes, one against ye other? Why they shewde so strange partialyty as to incourage petitioning in some, yet make this a crime so heynous, as it is certajn a lawyer of the Howse went so far as to say there were in it things not far from treason? and another gentleman, of, I dare say, sincere and pious intentions, told me, defending it, I did not understand the ayme of that Petition; to whom I could onely wish the event might prove me ye foole.

But he will not think it strange, when he considers (as ye issue made good) ye leading men in the Howses had an intent themselves to govern ye nation by votes, paper Orders, and Ordenances, wth wch, if the King should not concur, or any other oppose, they would force obedience by the sword, wch this did a little too soone discover (they having no army, nor in a settled way of raysing one), and might open men’s eies, break their credit, and make them (by whose contributions they must bee at first enabled) lesse willingly contribute to their owne ruine. For these men, presently after the perpetuity graunted, resolved on a change in Church and State, swallowed up all Episcopall, and Dean and Chapters’ revenues; yet, not to lose ye Cleargy totally, persuaded such of them as had beene any way kept under by the Bishops, it should bee distributed for ye improvement of smaller livings, increasing able preachers, raysing lectures, and ye like; and this they did not doubt of effecting wthout the considerable opposition of any, unless perhaps the episcopall party in ye Lords’ Howse, wch being now removed thense, it angred them greatly to see others in any kind thuart their designes, wch they saw this Petition to doe.’

Monday, June 11, 2012

A peculiar pleasure

The poet and teacher William Johnson, later called Cory, died 120 years ago today. Educated at Eton, he returned to the school to teach immediately on leaving university (like A. C. Benson, a generation later). He taught there for a quarter of a century before resigning because of a minor scandal. His very readable diaries and letters were published privately soon after his death.

Cory was born in 1823 to a Devonshire family. His father had been an indigo planter in India, and his mother was a great-niece of Sir Joshua Reynolds. He was educated at Eton and Kings College, Cambridge, and then returned to Eton in 1845 to work as an assistant master for over 25 years. He is said to have been a brilliant teacher and to have had a great influence over many of his pupils, some of whom went on to be important statesmen of the day. He contributed to education theory with two pamphlets, Eton Reform and Eton Reform II. He also developed a reputation as a poet; and A. C. Benson, in fact, later edited one volume of his poems (Ionica).

In 1872, Johnson was forced to leave Eton after an indiscreet letter to a pupil was discovered (his ODNB biography states: ‘he was dangerously fond of a number of boys’). He changed his name to Cory, and retired to an estate leased from his brother at Halsdon. Subsequently, he travelled abroad, and settled in Madeira where he married (aged 55) Rosa Caroline Guille with whom he had one son. While there he also wrote Guide to Modern English History (which is considered somewhat idiosyncratic). He and his family returned to live in Hampstead, North London, in 1882 where he died on 11 June 1892. Further information is available from Wikipedia, or (with login) from the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.

Cory’s personal writings were edited by Francis Warre Cornish and published privately - thanks to funds raised by friends and former pupils - in 1897. This book, Extracts from the Letters and Journals of William Cory, is freely available online at Internet Archive, but, as far as I know, has never been reprinted or republished. It is more letters than diary (and, unfortunately, there are no diary entries about his resignation from Eton, only letters). Nevertheless, here are a few diary entries from his time at Eton, and a couple from his travels in Egypt.

10 February 1864
‘School, the last chapter of both Timothies - half the boys got punishments for being late - this is one of the results of our hateful irregularities; for if we began every day with a regular lesson or prayers no one would be late. I railed. Took refuge in the good and steady lads who have too much self-respect to be late, and read with them; expounded the peculiarly ecclesiastical nature of these epistles, the liturgical flow of some passages, the germs of a Creed found herein, the obscure nature of the evidence about the government of the early Church, &c., &c. . .

8.45. Times at the fireside; F. W. late for breakfast because of prayers at 9.0.

Took it easy by way of keeping Lent: did some exercises, read Latin and Greek for Rawlins, which I found more edifying than the curses of the Jewish law. . .’

12 February 1864
‘I was on Myrtle, with a dog at each stirrup, the soft rain in my face, and the kind wind coming to me from my home: so I galloped blindly - for the rain disabled the spectacles - up the river as usual, but further than usual, even to Bray; back the same way, chirruping to the dogs and meditating on Colenso, whether it would be expedient to subscribe.’

24 July 1864
‘I wrote two sheets full of outlines of a discourse on youth and its rising above the world. I wrote with hardly an erasure, and finished what looks complete, in time for Church.

We were not out of Church till 12.30, when my listeners met. I began my talk easily by speaking to R. Lewis about his essay on music which he is to write - its effects - its use in training - rhythm - form - how to the performers it is finite, regular, formal; how to non-musicians who have imagination it suggests the infinite, awakens longings that we cannot satisfy; how this desire for what is unattainable blends with all our pleasure, which is not the ‘pleasure’ spoken of by the old pagan philosophers; that our pleasure, as soon as we become men, is indissolubly blended with regret, remembrance, regard; that early manhood is a sort of autumn; that we repine, reproach ourselves, often with injustice, &c., &c.

One notion followed another, and I was helped by what I had written, but not bound by it.

Among other things I told the lads that manhood will bring them Ephphatha, that they will some day ‘dare to seem as good and generous as they are.’ A strange sermon: but they listened, and answered me when I questioned them of their own experience; and my friend, in the evening, gladly took my MS. to keep for his brother to read; so perhaps I had as much success as the dignitary with his pulpit. . .’

27 July 1864
‘I had a peculiar pleasure - a letter from the father of a boy who had been in my division, thanking me for making his boy’s work pleasant to him; the most gratifying letter I ever had on professional matters.’

4 March 1873 [In Egypt]
‘That night was my sleep murdered. When I woke from my last attempt at sleep, it was still quite dark, but the sakyeh was making distant melancholy, bagpipe, humming-top, grasshopper music. Donkeys were ready for three; the purser and I set off in haste to be at Philae by sunrise, breaking fast on a bit of bad bread and half a teacupful of Marsala drawn fresh from the cask. The donkey-drivers sucked air loudly to encourage the quadrupeds, which were feebler by far than their predecessors at Siout and Keneh.

We left the hideous human warren, following a fair, broad, clean sandy trough with teeth of granite on either ridge, reminding me of the hilltops in the Vivarais, only much nearer to us. After half an hour’s chilly riding, the increasing glow showed us a little village, and then the smooth river; the rapids, falsely called cataract, were heard, but not after the Ciceronian Catadupa style - no fear of being deafened. The sun slanted well upon the innumerable rock edges of creeks and reaches, and told me at least that the island mass over against us had no trees nor mud huts on it, only the stately peristyles growing out of the live rock as at the Acropolis - a solemn, clean, calm mass, but in the dawn not highly coloured, not mysterious. I must try to see it again at sunset. . .

To-day Hadji-bidge-bidge, the Herberee sailor, has come to ask for oil to put on his sick wife’s head. He squatted down in his white drapery while examined by the Sitt through her son as to the malady. As Arabic is not his language, it was not very easy talk. Two interviews: trust on one side, patience and friendliness on the other: no snivelling. The Reis came to listen to it, so did Mohammed, and a tall blue sailor who said thanks for Hadji, leading off for him. This they often do, and we like it. After the aconite and the quinine had been given, with clear orders, accepted with nods of assent, the man was called back to receive a coin. He kissed it, but gravely; no Irish effusion.’

21 March 18873
‘Egyptian summer is said to begin to-day. We think it very hot, but have no thermometer. Yesterday we had an illustrious sunrise, which glorified the 400 feet scarp level strata, and one deep shadow cradle of Gebel el Aridi. For an hour there was the pink and glaucous hue on the hills, which melting into the water reflections is, for me, a feast of beauty such as I do not get when I look through other men’s eyes by looking on a picture. We rowed straight at the cliff, and as we came nearer, of course we exchanged the glamour of distance for the clean, bare quarry, and the regular embrasures which stand for tombs, or hermitages, or workmen’s lairs. They were busy hewing stone for building, but we heard no ‘shots’ nor any sound of tools. Sunset was nearly as good in the sky, and I feasted on it undisturbed in a little walk, undisturbed by men, though the gilt green plain was all alive with troops of cattle and sheep-drivers going from pasture, and the bank with lively singing troops of nimble people, towing big boats which were crammed with cheerful creatures going home from their month’s corvée. . .’

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Marches without water

Poor William Grant Stairs. Aged but 28 he died of malaria 120 years ago today. Having been caught up in the feverish ‘Scramble for Africa’ at the behest of the ruthless King Léopold II, he became a cruel leader himself. On an expedition to win mineral rights in Katanga many of his men died, and many others deserted. A diary he kept of his exploits in Africa, not published in English until the late 1990s, gives a good feel for the moral corruption of those enacting imperialist ambitions, as well as the arduous conditions they suffered.

Stairs was born in 1863, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and educated in Edinburgh before attending the Royal Military College in Kingston, Ontario. He spent three years working for the New Zealand Trigonometrical Survey. In 1885, he was commissioned in the British Royal Engineers, though soon after he joined the privately-funded Emin Pasha Relief Expedition led by Henry Morton Stanley which sailed from London in 1887. (See more on this extraordinary expedition in The Diary Review article Rescuing the Emin Pasha.) On his return, Stairs was named a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society.

Subsequently, and on Stanley’s recommendation, Stairs was appointed by King Léopold II of Belgium, who privately ruled over the Congo Free State, to command a mission to claim Katanga, a mineral-rich territory, now in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. A rival expedition, led by the Cecil Rhodes’ British South Africa Company, was also after the minerals in Katanga.

Stairs set out from Zanzibar in June 1891, and ultimately achieved his goal in that Katanga became part of the Congo Free State. But, he was a cruel leader, often resorting to violence, and he lost many of the 400 men he started out with, either because they died from appalling conditions on the expedition or because they deserted. He himself was frequently sick, and while onboard a steamer on the lower Zambezi he died - on 9 June 1892 - from an attack of malaria. In 1908, the Congo Free State was annexed by the government of Belgium after the increasingly brutal mistreatment of local peoples and plunder of natural resources had become an international scandal.

Wikipedia has plenty of information on Stairs, his expedition, and the part they played in the ‘Scramble for Africa’. But more can be read in the introduction to African Exploits: The Diaries of William Stairs 1887-1892 by Roy D. MacLaren (sub-titled as ‘A personal account of imperial ambitions in Africa in the nineteenth century’). This was first published by McGill-Queen’s University Press in 1998, and most of it is free to read at Googlebooks. At the time, Roy MacLaren was High Commissioner for Canada to the United Kingdom.

According to the publishers, ‘few diaries of the period convey better than Stairs’s the nature and course of imperialist expeditions in Africa in the nineteenth century and the psychological and moral corruption caused by absolute power’. Stairs’s diaries of the Emin Pasha Relief Expedition, it continues, ‘present a candid, personal account of the long and arduous venture, including a very unflattering assessment of Stanley, whom Stairs described as cruel, secretive, and selfish’.

African Exploits is divided into two main sections: Stairs’s diary of the Emin Pasha expedition, and the diary of the Katanga expedition. According to MacLaren, the latter is less spontaneous and less personal, because it was written as per the terms of his contract, as an expedition diary. It also suffers, he says, from having to be translated back from the French (the only extant version of the Katanga diary is in French in Léopold’s journal Le Congo Illustré) and along the way has lost ‘the lively Victorian idiom which Stairs habitually employed’.

Nevertheless, here are a few extracts from the Katanga diary in African Exploits.

27 August 1891
‘I have tried, during my leisure hours, to write some verse. I certainly have not achieved anything notable, but if I have been able to analyze faithfully the changing lights and shadows of the daily life of an African expedition, I shall have realized a long-held goal.’

28 August 1891
‘Tomorrow we must tirika: sleep in the bush without water . . . an eleven hour march almost twenty miles from here to the next water. A camp without water worries me, for on the following day, the men are good for nothing.’

29 August 1891
‘We have marched twenty kilometres in five hours and fifty minutes. We passed the place where poor [Thomas] Carter [a British army officer who had tried to introduce Indian elephants to Africa] was killed several years ago. . . Our camp is near the Lake Cheia which at the moment is simply a parched expanse without a drop of water. I sent natives on ahead to search for water. . . they report only empty wells, surrounded by decomposing buffaloes, giraffes, and antelopes, all dead from thirst. Extraordinary as it is for this region, there is also the corpse of an elephant upon whose putrid flesh the Africans feed.’

30 August 1891
‘Marched from 5:15 am until 10:15 am, when we arrived at Itura with my caravan dying of thirst and exhaustion. In the wells there was no more than a small ribbon of water. An Arab whose caravan preceded ours assured the natives along that route that we rob the natives. The result is that only with the greatest difficulty have I been able to buy any food. And to think how kind and courteous I have been to the Arabs.’

31 August 1891
‘Six and a half hours of march to cover fifteen miles. We camp amidst the brush, tired beyond description and without water. Tomorrow we shall reach water after a two and a half hour march, but the following day there is a wasteland of fifteen miles to Rubuga. [. . .]

As we approach Tabora I fear increasingly the desertions of more of my men. These long marches without water terrify them and I sense that they would prefer to desert than to continue in such conditions. . . The hardships and the weariness cause me such endless cares. . . that I have become as thin as a rail and my cheekbones stand out in my face.’

Thursday, June 7, 2012

A remedy for laziness

Celia Fiennes, an extraordinary early British traveller, was born 350 years ago today. She journeyed all across England on horseback at a time when very few people, let alone women, travelled just for the sake of it. She kept detailed notes of her travels, and prepared them for publication, yet a first complete edition did not emerge until long after her death. In this, she advises her readers to travel round England to cure the ‘itch’ of foreign travel, and as a cure for laziness. Although not strictly a diary, since there are no dates and the narrative is continuous, more like a memoir, Arthur Ponsonby does include a chapter on Fiennes in his English Diaries because, he says, her notes are ‘quite obviously written on the day and on the spot’.

Fiennes was born in Wiltshire, near Salisbury, on 7 June 1662, the daughter of a colonel in Oliver Cromwell’s army. Not much is known about her life, except that she never married, and travelled extensively - riding side-saddle - round Britain, so much so that she is credited with being the first woman ever to visit all the English counties. She is sometimes identified with the nursery rhyme, ‘Ride a Cock Horse’, since the phrase ‘on a fine horse’ could be construed as a corruption of ‘on a Fiennes horse’ but there appears to be no evidence for this link. She died in 1741. See History Net, Wikipedia, Hackney Council or the BBC for a little more biographical info.

Fiennes is remembered today because she kept comprehensive and interesting notes on all her travels. Although she prepared a book from these notes for publication, none of it appeared until 1812, when the poet Robert Southey included at least one short and unattributed extract in his Omniana or Horae Otiosiores. The first published edition of Fiennes’ diary did not appear until 1888 under the title Through England on a Side Saddle in the Time of William and Mary (Leadenhall Press). This is now freely available on the internet at Vision of Britain, A Celebration of Women Writers, or Internet Archive. A scholarly edition - The Journeys of Celia Fiennes - was edited by Christopher Morris and published by Cresset Press in 1947, and other editions have followed since.

According to Arthur Ponsonby, the early 20th century doyen of diaries (author of English Diaries and More English Diaries), Celia Fiennes diary is peculiar: ‘It is not divided up into days with dates. In fact, no date is mentioned in it except the years 1695 and 1697. But the notes she makes are quite obviously written on the day and on the spot, except perhaps the descriptions of London and the Lord Mayor’s Show.’

Ponsonby explains: ‘The value of Celia Fiennes’ diary rests in the picture it gives of country houses, gardens, and the towns, fashionable watering-places, and villages of England at the end of the seventeenth century, for there is very little literature of this description belonging to that period. Her language is by no means florid. Indeed, her vocabulary is somewhat limited. An expression of praise she uses over and over again in connection with cathedrals, houses, gardens, etc., is that they are “neat.” But in a simple way she gives quite effectively little pictures of what she sees, and uses many quaint but happy expressions, as, for instance, when she says of the spire of Salisbury Cathedral: “it appears to us below as sharpe as a Dagger, Yet in the compass on the top as bigg as a cart wheele.” ’

Here is Fiennes’ (edifying) preface ‘To the reader’ (with added paragraph breaks).

‘As this was never designed: soe not likely to fall into the hands of any but my near relations, there needs not much to be said to Excuse or recommend it. Som. thing may be diverting and proffitable tho’ not to Gentlemen that have travelled more about England, staid longer in places, might have more acquaintance and more opportunity to be inform’d.

My Journeys as they were begun to regain my health by variety and change of aire and exercise, soe whatever promoted that Was pursued; and those informations of things as could be obtein’d from inns en passant, or from some acquaintance, inhabitants of such places could ffurnish me with for my diversion, I thought necessary to remark: that as my bodily health was promoted my mind should not appear totally unoccupied, and the collecting it together remain for my after conversation (with such as might be inquisitive after such and such places) to wch might have recourse; and as most I converse with knows both the ffreedom and Easyness I speak and write as well as my deffect in all, so they will not expect exactness or politeness in this book, tho’ such Embellishments might. have adorned the descriptions and suited the nicer taste.

Now thus much without vanity may be asserted of the subject,. that if all persons, both Ladies, much more Gentlemen, would spend some of their tyme in Journeys to visit their native Land, and be curious to Inform themselves and make observations of the pleasant prospects, good buildings, different produces and manufactures of each place, with the variety of sports and recreations they are adapt to, would be a souveraign remedy to cure or preserve ffrom these Epidemick diseases of vapours, should I add Laziness? -it would also fform such an Idea of England, add much to its Glory and Esteem in our minds and cure the evil Itch of overvalueing fforeign parts; at least ffurnish them with an Equivalent to entertain strangers when amongst us, Or jnform them when abroad of their native Country, which has been often a Reproach to the English, ignorance and being strangers to themselves.

Nay the Ladies might have matter not unworthy their observation, soe subject for conversation, within their own compass in each county to which they relate, and thence studdy now to be serviceable to their neighbours especially the poor among whome they dwell, which would spare them the uneasye thoughts how to pass away tedious dayes, and tyme would not be a burthen when not at a card or dice table, and the ffashions and manners of fforeign parts less minded or desired.

But much more requisite is it for Gentlemen in [general] service of their country at home or abroad, in town or country, Especially those that serve in parliament to know and jnform themselves ye nature of Land, ye Genius of the Inhabitants, so as to promote and improve Manufacture and trade suitable to each and encourage all projects tending thereto, putting in practice all Laws made for each particular good, maintaining their priviledges, procuring more as requisite; but to their shame it must be own’d many if not most are Ignorant of anything but the name of the place for which they serve in parliament; how then can they speake for or promote their good or Redress their Grievances?

. . . [I] shall conclude with a hearty wish and recommendation to all, but Especially my own Sex, the studdy of those things which tends to Improve the mind and makes our Lives pleasant and comfortable as well as proffitable in all the Stages and Stations of our Lives, and render suffering and age supportable and Death less fformidable and a future State more happy.’

The following extract in the diary itself is taken from Fiennes’ tour in 1698, when travelling through Cornwall.

‘The people here are very ill Guides and know but Little from home, only to some market town they frequent, but will be very solicitous to know where you goe and how farre and from whence you Came and where is ye abode. Then I Came in sight of ye hill in Cornwall Called ye Mount, its on a Rock in the sea wch at ye flowing tyde is an jsland, but at Low water one Can goe over ye sands almost just to it, its but a Little market town wch is about 2 mile from Panzants, and you may walke or Ride to it all on ye sands when ye tyde’s out. Its a ffine Rock and very high - severall Little houses for fisher men - in ye sides of it just by the water. At ye top is a pretty good house where the Govenour Lives sometymes, - Sr - Hook his name is - there is a tower on the top on wch is a fflag. There is a Chaire or throne on the top from whence they Can discover a Great way at sea and here they put up Lights to direct shipps.

Pensands is Rightly named being all sands about it - it Lies just as a shore to ye maine South ocean wch Comes from ye Lizard and being on ye side of a hill wth a high hill all round ye side to ye Landward it Lookes soe snugg and warme, and truely it needs shelter haveing the sea on ye other side and Little or no ffewell - turff and ffurse and fferne. They have Little or noe wood and noe Coale wch differences it from Darbyshire, otherwise this and to ye Land’s End is stone and barren as Darbyshire.

I was surprised to ffind my supper boyling on a fire allwayes supply’d wth a bush of ffurse and yt to be ye only ffewell to dress a joynt of meat and broth, and told them they Could not roast me anything, but they have a Little wood for such occasions but its scarce and dear wch is a strange thing yt ye shipps should not supply them. They told me it must all be brought round the Lands End and since ye warre they Could not have it.

This town is two parishes, one Church in ye town and a Little Chappell and another Church belonging to ye other parish wch is a mile distance. There is alsoe a good meeteing place. There is a good Key and a good Harbour for ye shipps to Ride, by meanes of ye point of Land wch runns into ye Sea in a neck or Compass wch shelters it from ye maine and answers the Lizard point wch you see very plaine – a point of Land Looks Like a Double hill one above ye other that runns a good way into ye sea.

Ye Lands End is 10 mile ffarther, pretty steep and narrow Lanes, but its not shelter’d wth trees or hedg Rows this being rather desart and Like ye peake Country in Darbyshire, dry stone walls, and ye hills full of stones, but it is in most places better Land and yeilds good Corne, both wheate Barley and oates and some Rhye.

About 2 mile from the Lands End I Came in sight of ye maine ocean on both sides, the south and north sea and soe Rode in its view till I saw them joyn’d at ye poynt, and saw the jsland of Sily wch is 7 Leagues off ye Lands End. They tell me that in a Cleer day those in the Island Can discern the people in the maine as they goe up ye hill to Church, they Can Describe their Clothes. This Church and Little parish wch is Called Church town is about a mile from from the poynt. The houses are but poor Cottages Like Barns to Look on, much Like those in Scotland, but to doe my own Country its right ye Inside of their Little Cottages are Clean and plaister’d and such as you might Comfortably Eate and drink in, and for Curiosity sake I dranck there and met wth very good bottled ale.

The Lands End terminates in a poynt or Peak of Great Rocks wch runs a good way into ye sea, I Clamber’d over them as farre as safety permitted me, there are abundance of Rocks and Sholes of stones stands up in the sea a mile off some here and there, some quite to ye shore, wch they name by severall names of Knights and Ladies Roled up in mantles from some old tradition or ffiction - Ye poets advance description of ye amours of some Great persons; but these many Rocks and Stones wch Lookes Like ye Needles in ye Isle of Wight makes it hazardous for shipps to double ye poynt Especially in stormy weather.

Here at ye Lands end they are but a Little way off of France, 2 dayes saile at farthest Convey them to Hauve de Grace in France, but ye peace being but newly entred into wth ye Ffrench I was not willing to venture at Least by myself into a fforreign Kingdom, and being then at ye End of ye Land, my horses Leggs Could not Carry me through ye deep, and so return’d againe to Pensands 10 mile more, and soe Came in view of both ye seas and saw ye Lizard point and Pensands and ye Mount in Cornwall wch Looked very fine in ye broad day, the sunn shineing on ye rocke in ye sea.’